5.1 Supporting Enterprise Development for Marginalized Populations Means Changing Perceptions about Those Populations by Key Stakeholders

Some employers, employees, families, local leaders and even program staff may have preconceived notions about marginalized young people in general and hold particular stereotypes based on gender. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official humanitarian organization of the Catholic Church, and Navsarjan Trust, a local NGO in Gujarat, India, have found that awareness-raising increased stakeholder’s comfort level with these populations. Program staff had to examine stigmas about young people before working with them. Employers had to be open to hiring at-risk or gang-involved youth. DAI, a global development organization leading a youth employment initiative in Sri Lanka, found that many employers had preconceptions about hiring young people from the conflict-affected North.

5.1.1 Noteworthy Results: DAI Engaging Employers over the Long-Term in Conflict-Affected Environment

Through a USAID-funded project, “Stabilization of Youth through Providing Employment Opportunities” (RISEN), in northern Sri Lanka, DAI effectively encouraged employers to expand their operations into this region in order to provide viable employment opportunities to unemployed and conflict-affected young people ages 14 to 30. After 30 years of the Northern Province being under the militant control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the entire population of northern Sri Lanka was displaced, the population had little access to agricultural lands, and industry suffered due to the pervasiveness of landmines and damage to infrastructure. A significant number of young people had been resettled in this predominantly rural area, and depended completely on dwindling humanitarian assistance for survival. The government did not have the capacity to support their livelihoods needs.

Employers located in other regions were hesitant to operate in the North, and held pre-conceived notions on the young people living there. DAI went to substantial lengths to convince the employers of the potentially talented labor pool in the region, and also developed a personalized outreach program to engage potential youth employees.

To engage the employers, DAI convened two Employer Forums where employers discussed the obstacles they saw for operating in the region and the needs they would have to operate there. After

significant consultation with employers on how to create market-driven employment opportunities for youth that would contribute to the employers’ bottom line, the employers produced 10,200 job orders.

RISEN partnered with JobsNet—a Tripartite Partnership among the government, employers and trade unions—to inform young people of new employment opportunities coming to the region. To reach the youth, a decorated full body lorry with a sound system traveled to rural villages in 12 Divisions across four Districts in the North informing young people of the JobsNet program and registering them at mobile registration clinics. The young people’s registration forms were entered into the National Employee Delivery System database for future potential employment linkages. More than 17,500 youth registered for jobs in trades such as carpentry, plumbing, and mobile phone repair. Over 80 employers and 15,000 youth participated in the job fair, and approximately 2,000 youth were selected to receive training in employability skills (e.g. interview skills and CV preparation).

This extensive engagement with both employers and young people throughout the project resulted in employers extending 3,218 job and 2,000 paid on-thejob- training offers the day of the job fair. Additionally, 17,500 youth were registered within the National Employee Delivery System, and additional offers were existed after the job fair.

Navsarjan Trust (see Box 5.2.1) discovered how critical it was to convince the families of Dalit (formerly known as untouchables or scheduled caste) AGYW that young women could be empowered participants in YEO programs.

In all those examples, YEO practitioners had to:

  • Surface underlying preconceptions about young women and young men from key stakeholders and listen to their concerns around young people’s participation in the program;
  • Review expectations for the program among all involved, including the youth themselves; and
  • Raise awareness about the future potential of young people as employees, business-owners, customers, students, etc.

This process was necessary to deal proactively with the social stigmas and cultural preconceptions about marginalized young people, so that they could participate fully and benefit from the program.1